Column: Maybe we should change our attitudes instead of our lawns

By Lori A. Mayne

Funny how kids can get so excited about those first yellow dandelions popping up on the front lawn.

No sooner have the “flowers” appeared than they’re dashing out to pick bouquet after bouquet — often to their mothers’ horror.

The family lawnmower inevitably lops off the flowers. But, to children’s amazement, by the next morning the ubiquitous sign of spring has magically reappeared.

The word “dandelion” comes from the French dent-de-lion, meaning lion’s tooth. And to many homeowners, the “weed” represents exactly such a beast.

Luckily, a mere drop of a pesticide from your local lawn-care provider will kill this king of the suburban jungle.

Lucky? Perhaps.

Homeowners rightly take pride in neatly kept properties, the colourful flowers (those intentionally planted) that dot their landscape, a healthy garden and, above all, the green grass.

As the nation’s capital, we should take pride in our looks.

The main question is, How much do our cosmetics cost and how are they harming our health and our environment?

We may tire of the endless shouting of environmental activists. We may want to argue against the impression that carcinogens and environmental risks lurk around every civilized corner.

And yet the environmentalists point out a fact we can’t ignore: pesticides are designed to kill. Sometimes, they’re designed to kill a specific pest, but sometimes they destroy pretty much everything in their path.

A lawn-care company can tell you that it only takes a quarter-cup of pesticide to treat a whole lawn. While that speaks to the small amount of pesticides such companies use, it also speaks to how little they need to use. Not only do these products kill, they kill well.

That considered, should we find it so surprising that pesticides are linked to everything from environmental illnesses to cancer, and perhaps even to Alzheimer’s?

Even federally approved pesticides aren’t risk-free. Otherwise, the experts wouldn’t tell you to wear gloves, and to keep Spot and the family cat — let alone the children — off the lawn after spraying.

And it’s a risk that we’re taking largely for the sake of fewer dandelions and bigger carrots from the vegetable patch.

As the gardeners from our own Governor General’s residence point out, you don’t need pesticides for a great garden anyway.

If the organic method creates a garden good enough for Adrienne Clarkson, it’s likely up to snuff for the rest of us.

The lawn-care specialists also say their products are regulated much like the pharmaceutical industry. Interestingly, the green gardeners compare the use of pesticides to antibiotics. Just like too many antibiotics can harm our own immune systems and create super bugs, so can pesticides destroy the “immunity” of a soil and create chemical-resistant bugs.

So maybe we want to look at what we’re killing, not just how we’re killing it.

Take our old friend the dandelion. It’s an important source of nectar for pollinating insects, and food for birds. It’s an edible plant, high in vitamin A, iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium and copper. It’s also a good diuretic, and has medicinal properties that help fight liver and digestive disorders, anemia and eczema, not to mention it’s potential as an alcoholic beverage.

Plus, it’s quite an amazing study of hearty survival. It reproduces without fertilization: after the yellow flower turns into the familiar white puffball near the end of its life, it spreads approximately 180 of its hated seeds into the air.

So maybe – like the kids – we should appreciate the lion’s tooth.

It means summer’s just around the corner.